Thursday, August 14, 2008

Into the Woods...

I've tucked myself away at a fellow writer's house in the woods for the next two days to re-jumpstart myself on my current book proposal, which I've been away from these past few months. So in addition to some guest posts, I myself will be writing over here about, well, writing.

Since I'm all about beginnings this morning, thought I'd share this quip from James B. Stewart's Follow the Story, which I'm reading upon recommendation of my authors group (aka the Invisible Institute):
"The key to a successful lead [beginning] is quite simple: it must attract and hold readers by re-creating in their minds the same curiosity that drove you to undertake the story in the first place."
And here's Stewart's pitch for outlining:
"I have been amazed to discover how much time I have saved, and how much anxiety I have avoided, by having a clear structure in mind, if not on paper."
And I have been amazed to discover how difficult it is to get myself to outline. I'm always curious to hear about other people's processes. Tell me, dear GWP readers--many of whom I know are also writers--do you outline? Does it work for you? Tips?!


Anonymous said...

No I don't really outline but I am a fiction writer primarily.

I will outline (started it already) my memoir which is my NanaWriMo project for this year. I have a columnist friend who thinks the world might be interested in me. I am dubious on that point - but what the hell, eh?

In my writing groups there are many who outline and just as many who don't. I do have a fairly good idea of where I am going but fictional characters sometimes develop independent natures that can influence me.

There is a writers centre in Banff that offers retreats and holds workshops that I am trying to figure out a way to get to. Right now I have to content myself with 40 mins a day while the child has her swim lessons and our up-coming camping weekend in Jasper.

PS - I love to read writers talk about their process though and am very curious about proposals - as I haven't written one - yet.

smilla's simple life said...

I, too, love to read and think and write about process! Thanks for opening this up for comment, and thanks to anniegirl for starting it off! I, too, write in 40 minute bursts of swimming, while Wyatt is busy with water guns at a local wading pool -- he actually said to me the other day, when I tried to play too, "Mom, go write some more!"

Anyway -- outlining:

When I write fiction or creative nonfiction (like memoir), I don't have a set outline on paper - I have a strong and general sense of where the story is going, and the general arc of the narrative. I usually have to know how it is going to "end" before I can begin - but how things get to where they end is part of the discovery of the writing.

When I write scholarly work, I almost always outline - a very long, detailed outline (for a book manuscript, probably 20 - 35 pages; for an article,probably 5 - 8 pages). The key thing about that outline for me is that I use the outline to make a VERY detailed To-Do list. That is the list that I then work from in completing the work -- items on it might be as difficult/conceptual as "Restructure introduction to add in the literature on social movements...." or as simple as "Add citation to McClurg and Mueller..."

At the end of any work period, I decide on two or three things on the to-do list that I will work on the next day/work period -- so I can percolate on the conceptual tasks I've set for myself, and then I warm up on the work by doing the easier/simpler tasks.

One problem I have with outlining is that I often have a hard time deviating from the outline - even when I know it makes more sense to make the argument in a different place or different way, I find it hard to be creative with my scholarly work, because I'm so tied to the outline -- does anyone else experience that? Any suggestions?